Pride of Fort McMurray

Written by Emma Carter

A common thread that connects newcomers of the Fort McMurray community is the initial intention to move here for just a short period of time. This is certainly true for Kristel Rensmaag, who first made the move to Fort McMurray after she completed her Bachelor of Education so she could gain work experience before returning to her home province of British Columbia. Eleven years later she’s the phys-ed teacher and counsellor at Ecole McTavish, with no plans to leave.

“If I didn’t like it here, I wouldn’t stay.”

Kristel has been working alongside a core group of people to plan a family-friendly Pride YMM Celebration. The event is planned for 12:00-4:00 pm on August 26th in the Jubilee Plaza, and will be a casual and fun afternoon.

“I just want there to be a forum for the LGBTQ+ Community to gather in a safe space that’s welcoming, and I want my daughter to grow up in a community where all diversity is welcomed and celebrated.”

This sentiment is what inspires Kristel to dedicate her free time to the project. In addition to being a teacher and coach, she is mother to a 22 month-old who is best described as, in Kristel’s words, a “cutie-patootie.”

As if dividing her time between her family, her profession, and her volunteer-work isn’t enough, she’s also pursuing a master’s degree. The focus of her studies is the increased presence of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in high schools, and their effect on student-school experiences. She explained that the LGBTQ+ Community is subject to more violent hate crimes than any other minority group studied by Stats Canada. This is a statistic that echoes the last time a pride event was organized in Fort McMurray. In  2013, two rainbow flags were taken from the event’s venue, Bailey’s Pub, and burned in the parking lot. Despite this happening just four years ago, the Pride YMM float in the 2017 Canada Day Parade was joyously received. If anyone was booing the float, they were scarce and scattered amongst the many who showed their support. Kristel believes that the people of Fort McMurray are what makes it great, and that the community is ready for the August 26th event: “the support is there, and it makes my heart happy.”

Kristel and the rest of the Pride YMM Committee began to plan this event began in January of 2017. More long-term goals, such as a rainbow crosswalk, are on the horizon– but for now they are focusing on creating a fun event that will increase LGBTQ+ visibility in Fort McMurray. As a mother, ensuring that the event is family-friendly is important to Kristel. When she first came to Fort McMurray over a decade ago she was less forthcoming with her identity, but she found that not being her authentic self was “not fun.” Pride YMM is increasing the inclusivity of our community, and making it a better place for everyone to be themselves.

As Kristel puts it, “be your authentic self, as there will always be people who will love and support you.”